The fundamental guide to optimising for local SEO
With 4 in 5 consumers now using search engines to find local information, the importance of local SEO for small business SEO strategies can’t be overstated.
Relying on word of mouth is no longer enough, people need to be able to discover you in the search engines. Enter, local SEO.
Just as a listing in the Yellow Pages (remember those?) or a giant billboard would tell people how to find your physical store, local SEO is the digital marketing technique working to signpost people to your online presence.
Which is why, when you’re devising your small business SEO strategy, you absolutely need to be prioritising local SEO.
Lean into Local SEO
The online space is dramatically oversaturated; there are over 1 billion websites operating online today, and that number grows every second. Without some help from Google, we’d never be able to find the relevant results we want online.
Each time a user searches online, they do so with a certain intent. That could be an intent to buy, to gain information or a number of other reasons. Google understands which words indicate these different search intents and uses that understanding to know which type of content to deliver to a user based on their search query.
Understanding these search intents yourself, and factoring them into your small business SEO strategy, helps your site content to be seen by the right customers at the right time in their search journeys.
Local SEO takes this one step further and drills down solely into the location-based search intent of your target audience. For any business with a physical location, especially small regional businesses, embracing local SEO is essential to success in the search engines.
When you optimise your site for local SEO, you’ll be better positioned to rank for user’s location-based search intent queries. So your website will show up in their ‘near me’ style searches.
Smarten-up your small business SEO strategies
One big benefit of optimising for local SEO is that it helps you to get your business featured in the Local Pack. This is the Google search results feature that highlights local businesses to users when they search for localised queries.
So, say you ran an Indian restaurant in Coventry and optimised your local SEO to get featured in the Local Pack on Google; when a Coventry based user searched for ‘Indian restaurants near me’, your restaurant would be among the results delivered to them.
However, knowing why local SEO is important for your business is all well and good, but it’s nothing if you don’t know how to implement it.
So, read on to find out how to include local search optimisation in your small business SEO strategies.
Taking a two-pronged approach
When optimising your site for local SEO, there are two core areas to focus your attention on; on-page and off-page optimisation. These are two strategies that work towards the same goal, getting your site more visibility in localised searches.
One can’t work without the other and both have equal importance.
On-page SEO refers to all the optimisation work you do behind the scenes on your website to get it prepped and primed for local search discovery. While off-page local SEO is the work you do away from your site to build your local brand authority.
The Basics of On-Page Local SEO
As we’ve already said, the words included in a user’s search query indicate their intent. And with local SEO, you want to be targeting the queries that include ‘near me’ and other location-based variables. But, optimising for a location-based search when the searcher doesn’t enter a specific location can seem impossible.
However, following these steps will help you to optimise your site and your content for ‘near me’ queries.
Optimise title tags with Geolocation
To get the most out of your local SEO strategy, you need to always ensure your title tags are formatted to include your geolocation. This involves generating a piece of code which contains your geolocation, available from a geotag generator like this one, and inserting it into the header section of your website.
Optimise your content for ‘Near Me’ searches
You need to think like your customers. What are their pain points? What do they want to know? Which problems do they need solving? What hesitations might they have about making a purchase?
Answering these questions in your content and, importantly, making that content localised helps you to get picked up for the ‘near me’ queries.
This localised content could be in the form of FAQs, resources, video content, blog posts and on-page site copy.
Nail your Google My Business presence
If you haven’t already got one, then setting up a Google My Business page needs to be the first step of your small business SEO strategy for local optimisation.
A strong Google My Business page is how you get your business featured in the Local Pack and showing up in the business listings when users make a business type in place or service near me type query.
Be sure to include:
- Business category
- Full address
- Hours of business
- Links to your website/menu/bookings pages
- Business description
- Google posts
- Questions and answers
Feature your NAP on all pages
One of the most important aspects of local SEO you need to focus on in your small business SEO strategy is the consistent application of your NAP:
Name – Make sure your business name is listed accurately wherever it appears online.
Address – Ensure your address is always included in the footer of the pages of your website. If you have more than one physical location, put the head office address in the footer and create specific pages for the other locations of your business. For example, we have a specific Digital Marketing Agency Cornwall page and a Digital Marketing Agency Bedford page as Hedgehog has offices in both locations.
Phone number – Use your local phone number with regional dial code where possible.
Making sure your NAP is featured on all pages of your website and is also consistent any time your business is listed in a directory or other off-page location will help to build up your credibility in the eyes of Google as it shows them that your business is legitimate.
Optimise for Mobile
In 2016 Google reported that nearly one third of all mobile searches were related to location. They’re made in people’s ‘I need to know’ moments; when they want to find, for example, a nearby restaurant or plumber.
‘Near me’ searches are able to deliver location-specific results largely because, when searches are made via mobile internet, the signal pings off telephone towers to provide a rough estimation of the searcher’s location.
While especially important for local SEO, the majority of searches are made on mobile devices these days. So optimising your website for mobile use is an essential part of your small business SEO strategy, whether you’re a local business or a multi-national operation.
The basics of off-page local SEO
If on-page local optimisation is the work you do on your own site to point signals outwards about your location, then off-page is the work you do to get signals pointing inwards towards your site to confirm your location.
You get these signals in three key ways.
1. Building Business Citations
Getting other online sources to reference your business and point back to your website helps to show Google that you’re a trustworthy, official business.
These citations primarily come from gaining listings in business directories. National directories can offer the most authority towards your site, but don’t forget to also get featured in smaller local directories and niche directories for your industry.
Whenever you get listed in a directory, ensure you employ your correct NAP throughout so that your citation offers the correct details to allow Google to make the link between the listing and your existing location information online.
2. Local Press
Getting featured in your local press is a great way to build your Local SEO authority. Gaining links from the online presences of the regional press can help to reinforce your location in the eyes of Google.
But, it’s not just about online links. Building and maintaining a strong relationship with your local news outlets and magazines is a great way to build brand awareness and get featured in publications.
Whenever you have a new opening or product launch, or if you’ve undertaken recent charity efforts, inviting them or at least letting the local press know is a good way to get your business featured in various publications
3. Keep it Local
It can be a tough landscape out there for SMEs, so be sure to make building inter-business relationships a part of your small business SEO strategy. Getting in touch with other local businesses that complement your own and negotiating a deal to feature each other on your business’s websites is a good way to improve your off-page local SEO.
For example, if you run a restaurant, you could get in touch with the local independent cinema to promote each other on your respective websites. The two businesses complement each other as they are frequently enjoyed by couples as part of a date night. Visitors to the cinema’s site will see your business listed and be encouraged to visit your restaurant and vice versa.
These backlinks act as another level of authority and validation for your business that shows potential customers, and Google, that your business is trustworthy. But don’t overdo it, Google will pick up on it and can penalise you if they think you’ve been selling backlinks.
4. Request Reviews
Don’t be afraid to ask your customers and business affiliates to review your business on Google.
Reviews are a big way to boost your business’s local authority in a similar way that backlinks do. They’re user-generated votes of confidence in your business that Google loves to see.
So, getting in touch with old customers, asking new customers to leave a review of your services and encouraging business affiliates to review you can all help to improve your Google My Business presence. Google My Business account gives you a short URL to share with anyone you ask for a review.
29 more ways to optimise your website for local SEO
You didn’t think that was it did you? The ways to improve your small business SEO strategy for local search optimisation are countless. But, to get you started on the right track here’s 29 more local SEO tips and tricks so you can stand out among the local searches.
Tips to optimise your website’s technical local SEO
1. Check your Website’s Indexing with Google
Indexing is the technical term for whether or not a website is listed on Google. Having a website doesn’t always mean that it is automatically indexed in Google’s archives.
The simplest way to find out whether your website is indexed or not is to perform a search with your company’s name.
The search command site: + your website’s address is also useful to define whether a site is indexed or not and how many pages are indexed, eg. site:yoursite.co.uk.
If you find that your site isn’t indexed yet, the simplest way to get it listed by Google is through the Google Search Console URL inspection tool. If you’re unsure how to do that, Google has a handy guide explaining everything.
2. Ensure your Sitemap is up to Date
A sitemap, or sitemap.XML file, is basically a list of all the pages that should be indexed for your website.
Usually, a sitemap is reached by entering sitemap.xml after a site’s URL, e.g yoursite.co.uk/sitemap.xml. However, the route to find a sitemap depend on which platform the site has been built on.
For example, on WordPress websites, the sitemap is usually reached at yoursite.co.uk/sitemap_index.xml.
Once the correct path for your site platform is identified, you need to send your site’s XML sitemap to Google via your Google Search Console dashboard.
3. Correct Crawl Errors
It is important to note that crawl errors have no direct influence on a site’s organic search ranking.
However, correcting them can help to contribute to improving a website’s crawl performance, meaning Google’s crawl bots can scan through your site more smoothly to analyse your content.
The most common method for identifying crawl errors is through the Google Search Console index coverage report.
When correcting your site’s crawl errors, it’s best to focus on any 404 errors that the index coverage report flags up, as these errors also cause a bad experience for users of your website. The simplest way to fix 404 errors is to redirect the error pages to similar pages.
4. Avoid Duplicity
Having pages of duplicated content doesn’t look great to Google, and is useless extra weight for your website.
Scanning your site for similar or repeated page content can help you to cut back on this duplicity and speed up your site’s loading times.
There are several tools to help perform this task but, the simplest is through the search command site:yoursite.co.uk “keyword”.
Entering a keyword within two quotation marks – “ keyword ” – tells Google that the keyword must be contained within the pages returned as part of the search results.
So, when searching for duplicate content within your site, your chosen keyword could be anything from a product name to a page title or sentence of page content.
When entered with the site: search command, Google will return all the pages of your site which feature that keyword.
Then, conduct a case-by-case analysis of each page and define whether these pages can be merged together or even discarded completely.
5. Concentrate on your Canonicals
If there is a need within your site to work with one or more pages on the same topic, it’s best to choose the page which has the greatest potential to reach the top of search engine results page and apply the <link rel = ”canonical” href = ” yoursite.co.uk/page- canonical ”/> on the other pages.
This will tell Google that your similar pages are linked and supposed to be duplicates rather than accidental copies.
6. Ensure Your Website is Secure With an SSL Certificate
Google doesn’t give away many clues when it comes to understanding its system of ranking websites. But, one thing we do know for sure is that site security is definitely a ranking factor.
When we talk about website security, we’re talking about getting your site an SSL certificate.
They used to be primarily used by banks and large e-businesses, but since Google said “safe” sites would be rewarded in the organic search results, SSL certificates have become commonplace and the price has plummeted.
There are even very good free alternatives if you’re not in a position to pay out for a certificate, like Let’s Encrypt.
7. Tighten Up Your Heading Tags
Some SEOs say that heading tags are no longer important in structuring the content of a page, but we disagree.
Using the correct heading tags in the correct numerical order helps screenreaders and crawl bots to scan through your page content and navigate it in the correct order.
And, making sure your heading tags are in the correct order is just good practice, meaning no H3s before H2s and ensuring your H1 is always the top-level heading.
As well as making sure your headings are in the correct order, we recommend ensuring that your H1 is your page title and that you avoid using heading tags in elements such as menus, sidebars and footers.
8. Sort Out your Structured Data
Structured data, also known as schema, named after the website which houses all the documentation, is an important tool to help Google’s crawl bots to understand the context of a page.
It’s a form of code optimisation which works to tell Google specific information about your site which can encourage the search engine to use your page’s content to form Featured Snippets.
There is data for almost every type of page, however, not all data types are recognised by Google. You can use Google’s structured data testing tool to find out if pages on your site have the correct code.
Tips to Optimise your Content for Local SEO
9. Define your high-reward keywords
Keyword research remains one of the most important SEO techniques when you know search terms to target, you can begin to pitch your content in the correct places at the right point in the customers’ search journey.
For this there are several free tools that can help you:
- Google Keyword Planner
- Google Trends
- Answer the Public
- People Also Ask (on the Google results page)
However, it is important to keep in mind that search volume is not everything. Currently, what matters most is the context of the search and the user’s search intent.
10. Optimise for Search Intent
Each search query a user enters into the search engines indicates an intent through the words they use. There’s a reason they are searching and there’s a specific type of result they are after.
Understanding their intentions and the types of content they’re hoping to receive means you can know exactly what content to pitch and where to pitch it for ultimate user satisfaction and engagement.
There are 5 types of search intent:
- Commercial Intention
Our Fundamental Guide to Search Intent is a comprehensive resource for anyone looking to further understand search intent and begin incorporating this technique into their search strategies.
11. Update your Titles and Meta Descriptions
Titles and meta descriptions remain very important to achieve the optimum organic positioning for your pages to attract as many clicks as possible.
The meta description is the preview of a page you see on a search engine results page and is really important for making a good impression on a searcher to encourage them to click on your link.
There are some simple rules to follow when constructing your SEO enhanced site titles and meta descriptions:
- Include your target keywords
- Do not exceed the 65 character limit
- Describe the page succinctly and objectively.
- Do not exceed the 156 character limit
- Include your target keywords
- Include calls to action. e.g.: access, visit, meet, buy …
12. Focus on your Written Content
Content optimisation applies to your site pages and is especially relevant to blog posts for content marketing.
If you’ve always meant to start a brand blog but never got round to it, now is the ideal time to get writing.
Forget about waffling on for 2 or 3,000 words just to hit some rumoured magical target. Size isn’t everything when it comes to content. Although, don’t go thinking a 200-word half-thought will cut it as a blog post.
The most important thing for your content marketing is that it is relevant and useful to your target audience. This goes back to understanding their search intent. What problems do they have? What content are they looking for? How can your content help improve their lives?
Of course, it’s still important to include your target keywords and variations of the keywords in your copy. But, ensure they’re included in a natural way that doesn’t disturb the flow of the read. And no keyword stuffing, Google wised up to that black hat tactic a long time ago.
One of the most basic rules is to repeat the main keyword right in the first paragraph, in the middle and at the end of the text.
13. Keep an Eye on Your Image Optimisation
Correctly optimising your images helps the overall appearance of your website while also helping Google to understand what is on the page.
When you optimise your images you should be looking at them as if you were explaining them to someone who couldn’t see the content of the images.
Focus on the basics of image optimisation:
- Use a descriptive file name. Avoid 1221432.jpg
- Add alt or alternate text describing the image
- Providing a title can also help
- If appropriate, include a caption to show as text next to or below the image
- Ensure they’re high resolution
- Make sure you have the right to use the images
14. Build Up your Internal Links
As with external links from other websites, internal links – where you link from one page of your website to another – have an influence on Google’s ranking of your site when determining organic search results.
While it may be tempting to link everything together within your site, there is a system to it, and with everything SEO, there are some best practices to follow.
Internal Linking best practices:
- Use the keywords most relevant to the post in the anchor text (link text).
- Don’t just limit yourself to keywords. Whole sentences can be used in the link text.
- Avoid links with anchors like click here or learn more.
- Only the first link counts, that is, not pointing more than one link from the same page to another.
- 100 is the number of internal links that a page can point out. But on post pages use internal links only to reference, substantiate or contextualise the article.
- Related posts are great examples of internal links.
- Navigation trails (breadcrumbs) as well.
- Whenever possible, point to internal links to category and tag pages, this helps to increase relevance.
15. Update your Old Content
Now is a great time to revisit all the old content on your site and do some content spring cleaning.
We suggest following the UMP technique for your content spring cleaning. UMP is an acronym for Update, Merge or Purge.
- Update: add more content or refresh the existing content with up to date information
- Merge: unify pages which contain similar or duplicated content
- Purge: discard pages that are no longer needed
Local SEO Tips for Improving User Experience
16. Make your Site Mobile-Friendly
It’s getting rarer and rarer to find, but we every now and then we come across sites that are still not fully optimised for mobile use.
More people search the web on their mobile devices than on desktop platforms these days, so having a site made for mobile is essential.
To help you see whether your site is mobile-friendly and to get pointers on where to improve, use Google’s Mobile Testing Tool to check your site is optimised for mobile use.
17. Level up your Loading Times
With websites getting faster, and – more importantly – users becoming accustomed to the speedy delivery of their webpages, the demand for faster and faster loading pages is only going to increase.
Last year, Moz‘s site speed study revealed information about just how many conversions you could lose on average with each additional second your site takes to load. Unsurprisingly, ‘slow’ sites, those taking 5+ seconds to load, saw a massive drop in conversions.
Don’t risk losing visitors and conversions by operating a slow, lagging site. Checking how fast your site loads and making the relevant adjustments can help you to satisfy your visitors’ needs faster, plus, it will help to keep Google happy.
Test the speed of your website with the tools below:
- https://www.thinkwithgoogle.com/intl/pt-br/feature/testmysite/ – simple to use and offers basic optimisation tips
- https://web.dev/ – highly technical and the official Google tool
18. Don’t Lose yourself with Navigation
Menus are of paramount importance for user navigation within your site. A clear, well structured main menu directs users to the main pages of your website. If the user needs to use search to find pages within your site, you have a navigability problem.
Getting your navigation menus situated in a prominent place and ensuring they feature your most important pages or category sections will help direct users to the most relevant content within your site.
As well as menus, Breadcrumbs are also a key part of navigation optimisation for your site.
Breadcrumbs help to show a user where they are within a site. They usually follow the format:
Site > Category > Page
They can go even further if your site has sub-categories or filters within a section.
19. Prioritise your Most Important Content Above the Break
Above the break, or before the scroll as it’s sometimes known, is the section of a site which is seen on screen without any movement or scrolling of the page.
It comes from the term ‘above the fold’ used in journalism and publishing to refer to all content on a newspaper’s front page before it’s folded in half.
Content placed above the break will be seen by users as soon as the page loads without them taking any action to look for it. It’s your first impression on your audience and, as such, you need to be placing your most important content there to grab their attention and encourage them to engage with the rest of the content.
For articles, try and work on a strong headline and engaging excerpt and, for product pages, be sure to include the product name and a good quality image.
20. Refresh your Readability
In the simplest terms, readability is, surprisingly about how easy it is to read your content.
Avoiding long paragraphs and sentences that run on and on and on help to make your content more readable for users and Google’s crawl bots.
Using subheadings to break up text and bullet points and images where appropriate also help readers to navigate your content better.
It’s recommended that content is written for an American 9th-grade reading level, which is Year 10 the UK or 14-15 years old. Writing your content at this level ensures it is accessible for all adult users no matter their reading ability.
21. Allow for Accessibility
Almost 20% of the population has some form of disability so for brands and their small business SEO, creating a website integrated with accessible features shouldn’t be an afterthought or not thought of at all.
If you’re unsure whether your site is accessible or not Web.Dev has a tool to test your site.
It’s easier than ever to make your website accessible to all users. And why wouldn’t you want to make sure that everyone has access to your site? Our guide to the importance of website accessibility has loads of useful information for anyone looking to ensure their website is accessible to all.
Building Site Authority with Local SEO
These pages are often created but hidden on a website or hidden from Google’s crawl bots.
But, it can strengthen your small business SEO strategy to show these pages through links to these pages in the footers of your site.
Remember though, don’t try and copy privacy policies from other sites, you’ll need to create your own page relevant to your brand.
22. Create Clarity in your Contact Page
A basic ‘get in touch’ form isn’t enough for a brand contact page to be successful and worthwhile.
You need to not only encourage your visitors to contact you via a form, but also provide all the different contact points they can reach you at. Whether it’s a landline number, email address, your social media handles or your physical address, it all needs to be included in your contact page.
Not only will this make it easier for your customers to contact you via their preferred method, but it also lets Google know that you’re a legitimate business.
23. Add your Author Profiles
If you have a blog, it’s important to make sure the articles are signed by professionals with authority on the subject.
Adding an author profile with a short biography which explains why they are experts in their field helps to add validity and authority to your blog content. And, attributing content to the most relevant author for that blog’s topic helps to catalogue your content.
For example, at Hedgehog, Felipe our SEO guru is the author for any blog post focussing on SEO, while Alice, our copywriter is the author for any content-focused blog posts.
24. Gather Backlinks from Relevant Sites
Backlinks are links from other websites which point back to your website. They’re great for building up website authority as they show Google that your content has been useful to and validated by other sites.
The more authoritative the site you gain a link from, the more authority that link will give to your website. Which is why, with backlink generation, it’s not about how many links you get, it’s about who they come from.
A simple way to generate some backlinks is to ask for, or exchange links with your business partners, suppliers or customers if appropriate.
The Importance of Monitoring and Adjusting
25. Get Onboard with Google Search Console for Small Business SEO
Google Search Console is potentially the most important tool for small business SEO. It allows you to monitor your site’s visibility performance within Google and index pages.
Taking time to get familiar with the platform and how to best use it for your business is a great way to step up your local SEO performance.
Among other things, the tool allows us to know precisely which words generate visibility (impressions) and clicks for a website. And, with the Search Console, it’s also possible to know which pages are performing best, which devices are most used (mobile or desktop) and the origin of accesses by country.
26. Identify your Index Coverage and Inspect your URLs
Want to know how many pages on your site have been indexed on Google? Or if Googlebot found an error on any page?
Index Coverage is the Google Search Console report that tells you all of this and more.
If you want to know how a Googlebot ‘sees’ the pages on your site or you want to know if the content is loading correctly, then the URL Watch tool can help you see this.
27. Get to Grips with Google Analytics
Another indispensable tool in your small business SEO toolbox from the search engine masters, Google.
By installing a simple piece of code, you can begin to gather tonnes of important and useful data from your website that will help you to understand your visitors, which posts attract the most engagement and loads of other great insights.
All these insights can help to inform your future marketing, local SEO and content strategies to reach the optimal engagement.
28. Tune in to your Traffic Sources
One of the most useful tools within Google Analytics is the Traffic Sources report. As the name implies, this report shows where your site’s visitors came to you from.
Find out whether they arrived from Google, via social networks, from other sites, from email marketing campaigns and many other routes.
Another handy Google Analytics feature is the Device Traffic report. In this report, you can see which devices users visit your site with; Mobile (smartphones), Desktop and Tablets.
The data included in this report can help you to know where the majority of traffic is coming from to guide your work when optimising user experience work.
There’s also a feature in Google Analytics to monitor your Organic Traffic. In short, this means tracking all the visitors coming from Google via organic search and other search engines. It’s one of the main performance indicators that tell you whether your small business SEO strategy is bringing in results.
29. Concentrate on Conversions
However, this work on your traffic is nothing without that traffic turning into conversions.
In order for Google Analytics to record conversions for your site, you need to configure them.
The most common traceable conversions are:
- Form Fills
- Phone clicks
- Access to contact pages
- Purchases and transactions
All these tips and tricks should help you to optimise your website to perform perfectly in the search engines for local search queries.
There’s loads to work on, but ultimately it comes down to three key areas; your on-site local SEO, your Google My Business presence and your of-site local SEO efforts. Working on these should help you to rank higher and gain more authority for localised searches.
But, if it all seems too much, don’t despair. That’s what digital marketing agencies like us are here for. At Hedgehog, we’re pros at getting small business SEO strategies sorted so that they can conquer the search engines with expert local SEO tactics.